Women CEOs: 5 Names You Should Know

Of all the Fortune 500 companies, only 5% have women CEOs. We rounded up five of the biggest names investors should know. Here’s why. 

Sybil Prowse - Author

Nov. 20 2020, Updated 1:23 p.m. ET


Out of all the Fortune 500 companies, only 5% have women CEOs. Despite the abundance of talented women in the business world, the proverbial “glass ceiling” remains a challenge.

While women’s representation in markets and boardrooms isn’t where it ought to be, it’s definitely improving. Women are now graduating from college at a higher rate than men, and more women are getting elected to government offices than ever.

If you’re a woman trying to make it in the competitive business world, or an investor looking to support businesses with female CEOs—don’t give up! There are plenty of powerful women in business to look up to.

Of all the women CEOs in the world, we rounded up five of the biggest names investors should know.

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1. Mary Barra

First on our list of women in business (which doesn’t go in any particular order) is Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors (GM). GM is a global powerhouse in the automotive industry, and it’s also making waves in the electric vehicle or EV space.

The company has been on the up and up since the general automotive crisis and recession in 2008. It’s now one of the top three giants of the American motor industry.

Barra wasn’t responsible for pulling GM out of the recession, though. She didn’t join the board until 2014. Her hire was just in time for the 2014 GM recall crisis, which she faced criticism for, though she’d only been with the company for a few months.

She said the crisis changed her leadership style, and it may have been a bump on the road, but it didn’t stop the advancement of her career. Once she joined the GM board, however, it only took her two years to rise to her current status, CEO.

Barra’s view of the company is one that puts customers first. To that end, newer GM cars aim to offer more useful features for drivers than ever before.

Barra, following her customer-centered view, has driven GM to invest in electric and hybrid cars, which the general public—as well as investors—seems to support.

According to the GM website, her vision for the company is “a world with zero crashes, to save lives; zero emissions, so future generations can inherit a healthier planet; and zero congestion, so customers get back a precious commodity—time.”

Those are lofty goals, which a CEO can’t achieve alone. But as one of the highest-paid automaker CEOs, I think Barra is on the right track.

2. Indra Nooyi

Another female icon of the business world is former Pepsi (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi. She’s best-known for her work at Pepsi, where she served as CEO for 12 years.

Nooyi has a long and diverse education history. She studied chemistry in undergrad before going on to earn a master’s in business administration. She then went on to get another master’s in public and private management from Yale’s business school.

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She’s never seemed to shy away from hard work or dedication, as you can see from Nooyi’s long history with the Pepsi company. She joined as a senior vice president of corporate strategy and development in 1994. And she stayed in that position through 2001, when she became president and chief financial officer.

During her time as financial president, Nooyi managed brand mergers and distribution issues. And she was also a crucial player in the brands’ move toward healthier options.

With that success under her belt, she moved up to CEO in 2006. She was one of only 11 female CEOs among Fortune 500 companies at the time.

Nooyi was perhaps one of the most successful Pepsi CEOs. While serving in that position, Pepsi’s profits went from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017.

However, she stepped down from Pepsi in 2019, in connection with political pressures as well as controversies. She’d faced accusations of using “deceptive” marketing to make Pepsi seem healthier than it actually is. And while those controversies were the reason she stepped down, her legacy as a leader endures.

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3. Virginia “Ginny” Rometty

The 2000s were a rough decade for computer giant IBM (IBM). That’s when Apple products (AAPL) became the norm—if not the obsession—and Microsoft (MSFT) stepped up its game. It seemed like the previous leader in the home and business computer game, IBM, was getting left in the dust.

That’s when Virginia Rometty (who goes by Ginni) entered the scene as CEO in 2012. Rometty saw where IBM was in comparison to the competition, and she put the company on its now-successful path.

How? It seems Rometty is has a particular knack for paying attention to consumers’ concerns. To address a growing distrust of technology, she put data transparency and responsibility at the core of her mission for IBM.

While championing these principles, she also invested company resources in developing AI programs. At the time, AI was still a fledgling industry—more so than it is today.

Also high on her list of accomplishments is her dedication to employees’ comfort and health. Rometty recognizes that it’s challenging to be a woman or a parent of any gender while working in an ever-changing industry. She extended employee parental leave and created a unique program that IBM calls “Returnships.” These programs are adjustment learning periods for employees who’ve been away from work for a while, raising children or coping with health conditions.

This program won IBM the Catalyst Award for “Advancing Diversity and Women’s Initiatives.” As of today, it’s the only tech company ever to win this honor.

Along with her vision of a better life for her employees (and a more successful company), Rometty also led IBM to invest in student technological innovation. When it comes to female role models in tech, Ginni Rometti is high on my list!

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4. Lisa Su

Lisa Su is another tech icon, though her company is more niche than IBM. Interestingly, Su worked for IBM for 13 years of her career in varying positions before stepping into her current role and becoming a household name for tech investors.

Since 2014, Su has worked for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The company may not be as well known as IBM outside of tech and finance circles, but you probably have AMD devices in your home right now.

AMD makes processors and other tech devices sold both on their own and as components in other brands’ products.

Su’s journey to AMD CEO wasn’t immediate, but it was fast. She started working for the company in July 2014 and was promoted to CEO just a few months later, in October.

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Her work at AMD has won her a bevy of awards, including the prestigious “Businessperson of the Year” from Fortune magazine in 2018. UPWARD named her “Woman of the Year” in 2018, too, and the list goes on. Lisa Su is easily the most awarded woman on this list—though I’m not pitting these female CEOs against each other. There’s more than enough room for female leadership in the tech industry, and I want to see more!

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5. Meg Whitman

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman hasn’t always worked for the video startup she runs today. Before that, she was CEO of eBay (EBAY), and she then worked as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard for four years.

While she was successful at HP, Whitman is best-known for her work at eBay. During her time as CEO for the online retailer, she took eBay’s to an $18 billion valuation in ten years. Her leadership also increased profits by more than 100%—way more! You might recall that in those years, “sell it on eBay for me” businesses were popping up in every strip-mall.

After Whitman left eBay, she worked for Hewlett-Packard Enterprises (HPE), where she oversaw and helped navigate HP’s split into two companies, the other being HP Inc. (HP).

When she’s not serving as a CEO actively, Whitman is almost always drawing attention from investors. She’s on the boards of Procter & Gamble (PG), Dropbox (DBX), and a new sports company, Immortals LLC. Whitman has a net worth of $3.6 billion, and like the other women CEOs on our list, she holds an enduring legacy that investors should know about.


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